Trump appointment key for Warren County World Heritage Site hopes

Fort Ancient designation key variable in future around Wilmington Road exit.

Ohio historians are awaiting a decision by the Trump administration expected to help determine if the state park at Fort Ancient and other sites in the state preserving earthworks from the Hopewell culture will be designated a World Heritage Site.

The political uncertainty puts the campaign for the global designation for the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks on hold — all while a planning process nears completion to prepare the area around the Interstate 71 interchange at Wilmington Road for thousands of tourists expected to come if the designation happens.

RELATED: View maps, read draft interchange plan

“We are kind of in a little holding pattern right now,” Jen Aultman, World Heritage Project Coordinator for the Ohio History Connection, said.

The National Park Service post is among those the Trump administration is expected to appoint in the coming weeks or months, clearing the way for a decision on which American sites will be part of the next submission for World Heritage status through The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2018.

Other sites include in the Ohio application are the Earthworks at Newark, the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park near Chillicothe, along with the Hopewell Mound Group and Seip, Hopeton and High Bank earthworks.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Feb. 2, the proposed plan for development around the Wilmington Road interchange will be unveiled at an open house at Olive Branch United Methodist Church in Washington Twp., Warren County.

RELATED: Truckstop at Ohio 123 interchange expected to spark development.

The plan maps the future land use for land east and west of the interchange about halfway between Columbus and Cincinnati and near the state park established at Fort Ancient.

A steering committee, with resident input, has developed a 53-page plan for the area, also including more than 300 acres owned by the University of Cincinnati and other large tracts held for commercial development.

The proposed plan recommends modifications along Wilmington Road, west of Interstate 71. Three options are presented: redesigning the interchange, realigning Middleboro Road and realigning Middleboro and Olive Branch roads.

The changes could be added to the Warren County Thoroughfare Plan, which maps road improvements.

The plan suggests changes so that water and sewer services can be extended into the area.

Bruce Hellman, who heads a group which owns 93 acres in the planning area, said residents hope to preserve the area’s rural character, while property owners hope to see the area undergo commercial development.

“We want to work with the homeowners. We want to work with the business owners,” Hellman said.

The final recommendation in the draft plan on the last page of the draft report focuses on the World Heritage Site designation, expected to bring 250,000 visitors a year to the site, 10 times the current draw.

“The long-term success of a UNESCO World Heritage application and inscription for Fort Ancient is expected to have a dramatic effect on the awareness and viability of the Wilmington Road interchange area,” the report concludes.

The World Heritage Site process apparently has cleared one key hurdle.

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Margaret Gowen, who visited the sites for the International Council on Monuments and Sites, found the Hopewell sites were good candidates for World Heritage status, according to Aultman.

“These sites really do have what they call outstanding universal value. That’s the bar you need to reach. The whole world should care about preserving them,” Aultman said.

UNESCO did not respond to requests for an update on the process.

On Dec. 9, the National Park Service published in the Federal Register a tentative list, including Ohio sites. Next should come the Trump appointment and Federal Register publication of the list to be submitted in 2018 for the coveted designation.

“Now, it’s a waiting game,” Aultman said.

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Wilmington Road Interchange Plan Open House

Feb. 2, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.,

Olive Branch United Methodist Church

7315 Wilmington Road, Oregonia

For more information, call 513-695-1767

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